Saku Koivu had this to say recently about the difference in closeness between his new team, the Anaheim Ducks, and his old. “It’s more of a tighter feeling than in Montreal.”
And that says a lot. Because if it’s true, that the Canadiens weren’t a close group, then no wonder they lost big and looked dismal while doing it. You can’t win if you’re not a family, even a disfunctional family. The Edmonton Oilers, thanks to the documentary “The Boys on the Bus”, along with testimonials from Gretzky, Messier, Fuhr et al over the years, have described and shown us what a hockey family is. The Habs of the 1950’s were a close group, except for Jacques Plante maybe, but he was a goalie, and goalies can be whatever they want. Ken Dryden told us in “The Game” what a tight group the 1970’s Canadiens were. The Toronto Maple Leafs, the second-most successful franchise of the 1960’s, became a family and banded together because of one common denominator – their distaste of coach and drill sargeant Punch Imlach. Detroit bonded, possibly because of the tragic car accident involving Vlad Konstantinov, and have shown many times to be a close group. Now Pittsburgh, maybe with the help of Mario Lemieux’s mansion/party house, seems the same.
But the Canadiens weren’t?
Were the rumours of a divided dressing room true? Did players go their own way socially, or in small groups only, like we’ve heard? Was there friction in the room, including those who felt Koivu was a taskmaster as captain? Were the Kostitsyn’s moody? Did Kovalev upset players with his inconsistant play and puck-hogging, and what was the true relationship between him and Koivu? Did players roll their eyes when they saw how Georges Laraque was told to go out and stage fights? Did the players drive coach Guy Carbonneau out? Did owner George Gillett stick his nose in places he shouldn’t, and too often? And is the real reason players from other teams have no desire to play for the Habs because attitudes and chemistry are all out of whack?
When Guy Carbonneau was fired, he said that someday the truth would come out. What is the truth? Is it related to a divided room, with some players poisoning the air? And has the team been blown up and rebuilt because of the problems among players that may have been the biggest contibutor to their dismal performance?
We’ll hear soon enough about this group, because no team, probably in any sport, is scrutinized, categorized and analyzed the way the Canadiens are. Bob Gainey knows what harmony in the dressing is. I’m thinking he’s gone out and tried to find it.
Hopefully he has.